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Cyrus R. Vance

America has lost one of its premier statesmen of the 20th century.

Cyrus R. Vance, who served in the Kennedy, Johnson and Carter administrations, died Saturday at the age of 84. The quiet and self-effacing Vance, who was a study in contrasts with his flamboyant predecessor, Henry Kissinger, is best-known for resigning as President Carter's secretary of state over the ill-fated attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran.

For Vance, his action regarding Carter's abortive hostage rescue attempt was a matter of honor. As he wrote in "Hard Choices," his chronicling of the Carter years, "I knew I could not honorably remain as secretary of state when I so strongly disagreed with a presidential decision that went against my judgment as to what was best for the country and for the hostages. Even if the mission worked perfectly, and I did not believe it would, I would have to say afterwards that I opposed it, give my reasons for opposing it and publicly criticize the president."

His resignation tended to overshadow his substantial accomplishments in presidential politics and later with the United Nations over a period of three decades. Perhaps his greatest achievement was being an integral part of the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty of March 1979.

Vance was a man who could be trusted, which, coupled with his considerable negotiating skills, played a considerable role in bringing about that Middle East breakthrough.

As current Secretary of State Colin Powell aptly noted, "He (Vance) was a man of principle, whose quiet contributions were often the difference between success and failure, as at the historic Camp David conference."

Despite their differences, former President Carter had a lot of respect for his former secretary of state. Carter called him "a champion for peace and human rights, . . . who served me and other presidents well."

Johnson thought so highly of Vance that he presented him with the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award, before Johnson left office.

Vance will be missed by not only the diplomatic community but by many others.